Technology has become a part of our everyday lives. In fact, you are probably reading this blog right now on your phone, tablet or computer. Unfortunately for some, chronic illness is also an everyday reality that comes with many new prescriptions and confusing rules to keep symptoms at bay.
A chronic condition is one that doesn’t go away with time, usually lasting longer than three months. Conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, and arthritis fall into this category (1). About half of people who have a chronic condition, have more than one, making them more challenging to manage (2). Older adults are at an increased risk for chronic conditions (3).
Chronic conditions are often “self-managed”. Self-management skills are daily activities that can help you take control of or lower the impact that a chronic condition has on your life (4). Some examples include taking your medications as instructed, improving your diet, or getting more exercise (5).
But for some, self-management is an overwhelming task. This is where technology may help (3;6;7;8;9).
“Telehealth” is emerging as a good way to improve a patient’s self-management skills. It uses communications technology – including audio, video and websites – to deliver healthcare services and health information to people near and far (10).
A chronic health condition can be a heavy burden, especially when it comes to managing your own care. Can telehealth lighten your load?
What the research tells us
Research shows that telehealth can support self-management among older adults with chronic conditions, in part by building capacity for improving self-care skills and self-monitoring behaviors (3;6;7;8;9).
For example, technology that improves long-distance communication between older adults and their health care providers helped patients with chronic conditions take their medications as directed and improve self-care. Patients were more knowledgeable about their health, and experienced a better overall quality of life (3). Additionally, when looking at respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, telehealth led to a reduction in hospitalization rates (6), and improved blood sugar control (7;8) and weight and BMI (9), respectively. For conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and an over-active bladder, web-based communication strategies (such as discussion boards and online surveys) were also effective at empowering patients to take better care of themselves (3).
Future research should evaluate the long-term effectiveness of telehealth, because some studies have shown that the benefits decrease over time. The impact of additional factors such as ethnicity and culture also warrants attention (3).
If you suffer from a chronic condition, cast your morbid thoughts aside – there are things you can do to self-manage it and improve your health. Embracing technology is one of them.